The Aestheticization of the Politics of Landscape Preservation



This article examines the aestheticization of the politics of exclusion in a suburban American community. The research for this study focuses on the relationships among landscapes, social identity, exclusion, and the aesthetic attitudes of residents of Bedford, New York. By being thoroughly aestheticized, class relations are mystified and reduced to questions of lifestyle, consumption patterns, taste, and visual pleasure. Landscapes become possessions that play an active role in the performance of elite social identities. As such, social distinction is achieved and maintained by preserving and enhancing the beauty of places such as Bedford. This aestheticizing of place is managed through highly restrictive zoning policies for residential land and by “protecting” hundreds of acres of undeveloped land as nature preserves. This article explores the role of romantic ideology, localism, antiurbanism, antimodernism, and a class-based aesthetic in the construction of “wild” nature in these preserves. We argue that, in places such as Bedford, the celebration of localism, environmental beauty, and preservation mask the interrelatedness of issues of aesthetics and class identity on the one hand and residential land shortages in the New York metropolitan region on the other. The seemingly innocent pleasure in the aesthetic appreciation of landscapes and the desire to protect nature can act as a subtle but highly effective mechanism of social exclusion and the reaffirmation of elite class identities.